KIVANC TATLITUG AND TURKISH CULTURE
When we watch Turkish TV series, we are totally engrossed in the stories, particularly those starring Kivanc Tatlitug who has endeared himself to millions of women around the world. His popularity is not based solely on his looks even though he is incredibly handsome; rather, it is his interpretation of the characters he plays in a culture that reflects not only modern forces of change but also centuries-old traditions that are unique to his part of the world. Even though the characters may be flawed in some way or have failed in acquiring their goals, these dramas reflect values for ethical and moral behaviours that sometimes appear lost in our Western entertainment industry.
There are recurring themes in Turkish drama that are common enough in all literature and yet they are presented quite differently from much of our American entertainment: family dynamics, political and social injustice, revenge, women’s rights, love, marriage, divorce, abortion, wealth and power, and social mores.
Let’s consider the first, family dynamics. In his first role as Mehmet (Gumus), Kivanc is a young scion of a very successful business. As a young man, he flouts the tradition of courtship by becoming romantically involved with a young woman without his family’s approval. The girl is pregnant, a situation that is not unfamiliar to our society, but in a Muslim nation, it’s scandalous. Mehmet, however, is in love and will honour his commitment to the girl and their child. Tragedy intervenes and Mehmet sinks into a deep depression. The Grandfather, titular head of the business and the Sadoglu family, arranges a marriage for Mehmet, thinking this will alleviate his dark mood. But Mehmet rejects being forced to marry a woman he doesn’t know or love. When the Grandfather has a heart attack as a result of this behaviour, Mehmet’s love and loyalty for his family tradition cause him to honour his Grandfather’s wishes.
As Halil in Menekse ile Halil, Kivanc is a young man without parents, but he falls in love with a young woman who has a very traditional family. Menekse’s father arranges a marriage for her with a complete stranger, a man her brother knew in military service. She marries him against her personal wishes and discovers that he is abusive. With her grandmother’s aid, she runs away to avoid living with a violent man she does not know or love, a life forced upon her by tradition. Her father and brothers are enraged because her behaviour has brought dishonour to the family and the only way to absolve this is to swear vengeance with a blood oath. Halil loves her, recognizes her pain and fear of reprisal, and runs away with her to continue the relationship and to protect her. His love and loyalty to Menekse in the face of great personal danger prove his courage and moral fortitude.
In Ask-i Memnu, Kivanc enacts a very different character from those of first two series. Behlul is a playboy, wealthy, cosmopolitan, superficial in his romances, and spoiled by his family’s adoration. He becomes romantically involved with his uncle’s young wife, a truly scandalous behaviour, but he lacks the courage, to be honest with her or with the family. He is torn between his love for Bihter and his genuine love for his uncle and his loyalty to the family. He lacks the strength of character to follow his heart, to acknowledge the power of his feelings, to honour his emotional commitment to Bihter. To mitigate his guilt, he agrees to marry his young cousin, but his misery is soul-deep. The result of his indecisiveness is a tragedy for the entire family, a betrayal that will follow him all of his life.
Kivanc’s portrayal of Kuzey in Kuzey Guney is perhaps his most powerful role. Kuzey, a young man who loses four years of his life to protect his brother and his mother’s ambitions for that brother, returns home bitter and out of synch with life. He finds his closest friend and brother-in-spirit, Ali, to whom he can express his feelings of displacement. They go to a club to celebrate Kuzey’s freedom for what they hope will be an evening of fun and there Kuzey meets Simay, a young woman looking for a man who will save her from her family’s intention of an arranged marriage for her. Kuzey is disillusioned when he discovers that his imprisonment has destroyed his dreams of a military career. Despite his brother’s duplicitous behaviour and his mother’s unfounded accusations, Kuzey’s loyalty to family causes him to defend and try to protect both of them when Guney loses his position in the firm and his divorced mother is left alone.
Portraying Seyit in Kurt Seyit ve Sura, Kivanc enacts the role of a Crimean nobleman who sacrifices his own love and happiness to please his father and his family’s tradition. Seyit falls in love with a beautiful Russian woman from a proud noble family. Her family is Russian Orthodox, his Muslim. His father insists that the children of the family marry Crimean women of the Muslim faith. In a turbulent political time, even after his parents and younger brother are killed, Seyit remains loyal to his father’s wishes by postponing a commitment to marriage with Sura until other forces make their union impossible. Ultimately, he courts and marries a young Muslim woman about whom he knows very little.
Finally, in Cesur ve Guzel, Kivanc creates the role of a man who must discover the truth of his father’s death and regain the legacy that was stolen from him and his mother. Cesur is bound by his loyalty to his murdered family and his mother’s fragile mental state to pursue the enemy and recover their lost property. An honest man who refuses to cower before a powerful enemy, Cesur pursues Tahsin Korludag to discover the truth and he finds love and marriage along the way. Tahsin’s two children, Korhan and Suhan, are loyal to their father even when he tries to control them through deception, mistreatment and lies.
Political and social injustice is a second theme we find in Turkish drama. With few exceptions, the series paints vivid pictures of the disparity of wealth and its power with the middle and lower classes in Turkey, and with this disparity comes injustice. In Gumus, the wealth of Mehmet’s family allows him to set up a business for his wife once her fashion talents are discovered. It also serves to protect the family business from scandal, to finance an extravagant lifestyle, to provide the finest medical care, and to help Mehmet see his wife as an equal partner in the marriage rather than being subservient to the husband’s wishes.
The family of Menekse struggles to make a living in Berlin. The father’s business is not enough to support his family and his mistress, so Menekse works to supplement the household budget. Her brother’s friend has money to offer as a “bride price,” so the greedy father arranges the marriage of his daughter to a stranger, a man who is abusive. Halil’s parents have been killed and he has had to run from danger, hiding in Berlin without any financial support other than his job in a bakery. Menekse runs away from her husband and Halil who loves her follows her to Istanbul. Neither of the two young lovers can find help or protection when Menekse’s brothers and husband chase them through Berlin and Istanbul. The justice system refrains from interfering in domestic matters.
The Ziyagil’s wealth, like that of their enemy, the Onal’s, provides Behlul and his cousins with a lavish lifestyle and influence in business. Wealth also provides protection from scandal in the media when Firdev is caught gambling. The servants of the Ziyagil household are treated kindly by Adnan and his children, but the social divide is obvious. Besir, the chauffeur, an orphan who has grown up with Behlul, Nihal, and Bulent, loves Nihal but he’s a servant and he knows he could never have her because his station in life is so far below hers.
In The Butterfly’s Dream, Muzaffer’s family is poor. His support for his love of literature and poetry comes from his professor who nurtures his poetic talents. After developing tuberculosis working in the coal mines, forced labour that the wealthy could avoid, Muzaffer is released from the mines to work outside, climbing poles to check telephone lines. His tuberculosis worsens and only an intervention by his professor, who gets him into a sanitarium, helps him overcome the relapse. Muzaffer’s family is unable to afford the medical care he needs. The girl he loves comes from a wealthy family who disapproves of him; eventually, she is sent away by her family to avoid the scandal of her connection with a poor tubercular labourer.
Kuzey’s family, the Tekinoglus, own a bakery which provides a substantial middle class living for them. The eldest son Guney meets a wealthy young woman in his college business class and they begin a relationship. Her family considers Guney’s family commonplace and try to discourage her interests in him. Their wealth has allowed them to cover up Banu’s mental illness and control the media to cover up scandal when their holding company has financial problems. It also allows one member of the family to escape justice after a horrendous crime.
Seyit’s family owns a large swath of rich farmland in the Crimea, land that has passed down through generations. In addition to an inherited title, the Eminof family is wealthy by the standard of the day. But this wealth is maintained by labourers who have little in the way of material goods. They work hard but they cannot break the bonds of servitude until the Bolsheviks recruit them for rebellion against the Czar, the nobility and the wealthy landowners. In Istanbul, the local population and Russian immigrants are brutalized by the occupying English army, facing daily suspicions, searches, restrictions, interrogations, beatings and incarcerations. There is little justice for the common man, only for the wealthy who can bribe or buy their way out of jail.
Cesur discovers rampant corruption in Korludag when he buys property there. Tahsin Korludag owns the town and most of the property surrounding it. He has bought the land for far less than its value from the people living there with the promise that he will give them jobs, provide schools for their children, and maintain a hospital for medical care. What he doesn’t tell them is that he will control everything, including their jobs, wages they receive, and the houses they live in, and thus, he keeps them impoverished while he and his family grow wealthy. He controls the police and the prosecutors, manipulating them to protect his crimes and his illegal businesses. He uses them to plant evidence against his enemies, incarcerate and prosecute them. Everyone from the police to the doctors is under his control.
Notes regarding Turkish culture.
Family dynamics, political and social injustice.
Revenge: Cesur, Riza, Salih, Mihrabin, Seyit, Alya, Yahya and Ali, Kuzey, Guney, Baris, Banu, Simay, Venus,Onal, Besir, Cemile, Firdev, Elif
Women’s rights: Gumus, Menekse, Guzide, Binnaz
Love: Guney/Cemre, Guney/Banu, Kuzey/Cemre, Kuzey/Zeynep, Ali/Demet, Seref/Demet, Mehmet/Didem, Mehmet/Gumus, Seyit/Sura, Halil/Menekse
Engagement/marriage traditions: arranged marriage, groom’s family request bride, families are joined, engaged woman “belongs” to fiancée whether marriage takes place or not, marriage table, 2 witnesses and magistrate, civil service, family and friends present but don’t participate big reception… Guney/Banu, Kuzey/Simay, Kuzey/Cemre, Baris/Cemre, Sami/Aynur, Mehmet/Gumus, Pinar and Bahar, Mehmet Fikri, Peyker/Nihat, Bihter/Adnan, Nesrin/Captain, Menekse/Groom, Seyit/Murvet, Guzide/Yahya/Celil, Binnaz/Groom
Divorce: Mehmet/Gumus, Banu/Guney, Kuzey/Simay, Cemre/Baris, Sami/Handan, Cesur/Suhan,
Abortion: Simay, Suhan threatens, Bihter,
These are the established rules, procedures and methods that are accepted as a guide for social conduct see social norms. Etiquette and social decorum are examples of social conventions.
Welcome, Hos Geldiniz. . . Hos bulduk is the response
Men Only In Turkish Tea Houses
Give small gold gift or money at weddings
Take shoes off when entering a home; you will be given slippers
If invited to a home for a meal, especially a dinner, prepare to be served a feast. A guest is expected to eat heartily. You may be seated at a table if the family is wealthy or more westernized; if the family lives in a village, you may be expected to sit on the floor around a short table laden with food. Be sure to say elinize saglik to the cook, meaning health to your hands, a compliment.
A female guest may be welcome to go to the kitchen and help with the meal; men sit together and talk. A female guest may also help with cleaning up after the meal.
When meeting shake hands firmly. When departing it is not always customary to shake hands although it is practised occasionally.
Friends and relations would greet each other with either one or two kisses on the cheek. Elders are always respected by kissing their right hand then placing the forehead onto the hand.
When entering a room, if you are not automatically met by someone, greet the most elderly or most senior first. At social occasions greet the person closest to you then work your way around the room or table anti-clockwise.
Greet people with either the Islamic greeting of ‘Asalamu alaykum’ (peace be upon you) or ‘Nasilsiniz’ (How are you? pronounced na-sul-su-nuz). Other useful phrases are ‘Gunaydin’ (Good Morning, pronounced goon-ay-dun), ‘iyi gunler’ (Good Day, pronounced ee-yee gun-ler) or ‘Memnun Oldum’ (pleased to meet you).
Gift giving has no real place in business relationships or etiquette. Relationship building and the like will usually take the form of dining or sightseeing trips rather than lavish gifts.
However, if a gift is given it will be accepted well. It is always a good idea to bring gifts from your own countries such as foodstuffs or craft items.
Be aware that Turkey is a Muslim country. Before giving alcohol to anyone be 100% sure that they drink.
The only time you would need to give any great thought to gifts would be if you were invited to a Turk’s home for dinner. The most usual gifts to take are pastries, (especially ‘baklava’) and decorative items for the home such as ornaments or vases. Flowers are not usually taken to a host but can be if felt appropriate. It is best to ask a florist for advice on what is best to take. If the host has children take some expensive sweets or candy.
Most business entertaining will take place in restaurants. Turks enjoy food and the meal is a time for relaxing and engaging in some good conversation.
The protocol of Turkish hospitality dictates that the host always pays for the meal. The concept of sharing a bill is completely alien. You may try and offer to pay, which may be seen as polite, but you would never be allowed to do so. The best policy is to graciously thank the host then a few days later invite them to do dinner at a restaurant of your choice. It may be a good idea to inform the restaurant manager that under no circumstances are they to accept payment from your guests.
Evening meals may be accompanied by some alcohol, usually the local tipple called Raký (pronounced rak-uh). It will comprise of a few courses with the main course always meat or fish based, accompanied by bread and a salad.
Turks smoke during meals and will often take breaks between courses to have a cigarette and a few drinks before moving onto the next.
Tea or Turkish coffee is served at the end of a meal sometimes with pastries. Turkish coffee is a national drink and should at least be sampled. It comes either without sugar, a little sugar or sweet. Turkish coffee is sipped and allowed to melt into the taste buds so do not gulp it down as you would instant coffee. Never drink to the bottom of the cup as it will be full of ground coffee and taste awful.
When addressing a Turk the most common method is to call a man by his first name followed by ‘bey’ (pronounced bay). So, Ertan Gonca, would be Ertan Bey. Similarly, a woman’s first name would be followed by ‘hanim’ (pronounced ha-num).
Where professional titles exist such as Doctor or Professor, always use them either on their own or before the first name. Curiously this is also the case with many other professions such as lawyers ‘Avukat’ or engineers ‘Muhendis’. Within Turkish companies and organisations, senior ranking staff will be addressed accordingly. A common example is Mr. Manager, ‘Mudur Bey’.
A common phrase you will hear Turks using is ‘efendim’ (literally ‘my master’). You may hear this from a waiter, a secretary, taxi driver, doorman, shop staff and many others. It is simply a polite way of addressing people you are not familiar with.